Tuesday, April 16, 2013
To those leaving or have left the Church. . .
I read those words again today and find them absolutely delicious! We all have our issues with the Church. There is not one of us who finds the Church as she should be or could be. But we receive as she is -- filled with sinners redeemed by the blood of Christ and served by clergy who are likewise sinners redeemed by the blood of Christ.
All of us can understand the desire for a church filled only with the holy and righteous, who do not fall victim to temptation, whose hearts are pure, whose sins are few or none, and whose wisdom means that they make the right decisions for the right reasons at the right time -- always. None of us should stop working toward that end -- even as we acknowledge that this is a dream that cannot and will not be real until Jesus comes to drink again the cup with us forevermore.
But I find it both petty and tiresome when people decide they are going to leave the Church for this reason or that. Some are pretty big -- and the sex abuse scandals are a terrible stain upon the Body of Christ, to be sure -- but most are pretty small. Folks have and will continue to leave because someone in the pew or in the pulpit did not look at them or looked at them too much or looked them in the wrong way and feelings and feathers get ruffled. Such are merely confirmations of the state of the Church as not the assembly of the perfect but the congregation of those declared to be holy and righteous ONLY because they are in Christ by baptism and faith.
There is only one reason to stay... the Gospel is true. Contrary to the individualistic perspectives of so many Christians, if that Good News of Jesus' death and resurrection are true, then so is the stuff about the establishment of His Church, about the divine protection that hell cannot prevail against, about the stirring up one another to good works and church attendance, to the frequent and right attitude of faith at the rail receiving often the Body and Blood of Christ in the mystery of the Eucharist, and the Body of Christ the Church made up of notable and less notable members equally valuable to the whole and the head....
I know the Church and her members and clergy have sinned and continue to sin. I know that there are times when we must make apology to those whom we have offended. But there are also times when we must bluntly and lovingly say, "GROW UP!" to those who stand on the fringes or who nurse their bruises while piously declaring the Church unworthy of their affection and association.
There are also are limits to what the Church can, should, or must do to try to placate and please these demanding and demeaning would be saints who see the speck but not the log. My parents taught me well. The Church is there. The altar and pulpit are there. The Word is there. You should be there! Period! You do not go because the folks in the pew are nice enough or the clergy are good. You go because Christ tells you to go, because Christ promises to be there distributing His gifts and grace, and because to stay away is also sin.
Like another curmudgeon, this one Groucho Marx, I would not want to belong to any church that would have me as its member. Thankfully, the only requirement for membership in the Church is faith that you are unworthy of the grace shown to you. In that is room enough for sinners all.
There are always a million reasons to leave. . . there is only one reason to stay. Christ does not only bid us to believe in Him but to come to Him in the Church where He has promised to be in the means of grace. To find excuse and justify staying away is to ignore the Word of God and the voice of Christ. We all have wounds and we have all been wounded in the Church. Much of the time these are wounds we have caused ourselves and each other as Christians. There is no denying it. But there is also no denying that to stay away is to stay away not from the folks in the pew or the clergy at the altar but to remain distant from Christ and His gifts. So... get over it. Get off you rear end. Go to Church! And if you must, hold your nose because of who and what you find there... and keep your attention focused clearly on the Word (written, spoken, and visible).